In our weekly Scout feature, we take a deep dive into an emerging player on track to become a footballing superstar before our very eyes.
This week’s edition focuses on Arsenal striker Nikolaj Moller, a player compared to both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a Gunners cult favourite.
Moller is a 6ft 4in centre-forward who became a deadline day addition for the bargain fee of £450,000 in October.
Thomas Partey’s £45m arrival from Atletico Madrid stole the headlines that day. However, the Swedish 18-year-old could have the last laugh when the final chapter is written.
After spending over a year in Italian side Bologna’s youth set-up as a teenager, the rising star returned to Sweden in January, 2020.
It took less than a year for Gunners scouts to recognise his considerable talents, and since his Autumn arrival, Moller has blazed a trail in the club’s Under-23s.
His first goal was notched less than three minutes into his debut against Man City’s vaunted Premier League 2 side. Furthermore, his first full month of action saw him shortlisted for the PL2’s Player of the Month award in November.
Why the hype?
Moller’s height, exemplary technique and nationality have handed him an obvious comparison with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While the youngster still has a long way to go to match his iconic countryman, his early performances in England suggest he is on the right path.
Moller is currently operating at a goal every other game in the Under-23s. This is despite the fact he has been criticised for showing a lack of ruthlessness in the final third.
Once the dormant hint of selfishness to plunder goal after goal emerges, expect that ratio to move closer to 1:1.
Aside from his goalscoring prowess, Moller possesses an excellent all-round game that will bring the best out of his teammates. No pass can he hit too hard or bounce too awkwardly for Moller to wrest under his control.
He is surprisingly mobile for such a tall man and boasts a sharp initial burst of acceleration.
A relatively slim figure at present, Moller will become a defender’s worst nightmare when he adds muscle mass over time to fill out his large frame.
Reminds you of a young…?
Any technically gifted and tall centre-forward fits the bill here, but his former coach at Malmo picked out one ex-Gunner in particular.
Robin Asterhed – the current Copenhagen under-19s assistant coach who has known the Swede for six years – said (via 101GreatGoals): “Comparing to former Arsenal players, I would say maybe [Nwankwo] Kanu is the closest one. On the pitch Niko is a really technical player.”
Kanu was a prime example of a towering number nine who possessed far more in his locker than just physical attributes. A forbearer to the likes of Olivier Giroud, the Nigerian became a cult favourite during a trophy-laden five years in North London.
Despite his age, Moller has already showcased the ability to be a scorer of all manner of types of goals.
Moller will hope to have a goalscoring record more closely matching Giroud’s. But in truth, he can’t go wrong if his career follows the paths walked by either of those former Arsenal hitmen.
One might think a compilation of Moller moments from just a couple of months at the club wouldn’t be anything special.
That depends on what you seek in a footballer, because to earn a place in Mikel Arteta’s first-team, the Swede will need to have many strings to his bow.
The following video showcases just how rounded Moller’s game already is despite his tender age.
With Folarin Balogun seemingly set to depart when his contract expires, Arsenal could turn to his PL 2 strike partner, Nikolaj Moller
— Touchline Extra (@TouchlineExtra) January 8, 2021
The Experts’ View
The list of clubs vying for Moller’s signature in the summer window was not a lengthy one. More fool them.
A senior figure within Arsenal’s academy reportedly told Goal of the missed opportunity their rivals have spoken of since Moller’s immediate impact. They source said: “We’ve had a lot of people from other clubs say ‘bloody hell, how did we miss him?’.
Describing the vast array of attributes Moller brings to the table, former coach Asterhed told 101GreatGoals: “He can flick in behind, he can combine and he has a really good one touch. He also has the dribbling abilities.
“He is a huge player. 194cm, 90kg and for this size he is really mobile. He can run in behind, is quick in the first meters and makes quite well-timed runs.”
Tell us something we don’t know…
Moller may have inadvertently played his part in helping Arsenal to land Norwegian playmaker Martin Odegaard on loan.
The pair are both represented by Nordic Sky (NSKY), a player agency representing footballers mainly from Scandinavian countries.
Football London speculated in late-January how this prior relationship between Arsenal and the agency could help facilitate a move for the Real Madrid playmaker.
Less than a week later, Odegaard had signed on the dotted line.
A perfect fit for…?
The obvious answer is Arsenal. The more pertinent question is how soon before his call-up arrives.
Educated at the managerial school of Pep Guardiola, Arteta is unlikely to ever resort to good old-fashioned long ball.
The same was true of Arsene Wenger, however, and Giroud did just fine under his fellow Frenchman due to his technical expertise and ability to bring others into play.
#AFC | Nikolaj Moller called up to first team training by MA. A player surrounded by plenty of promise & most importantly for me at this stage, standing at 6ft 4in he is a different profile of player to our current forward options. Is the boss rethinking the role of his CFs? 🤔
— Harry Symeou (@HarrySymeou) November 14, 2020
Moller will bring something Arsenal’s current forward ranks cannot provide. However, becoming a mainstay in the senior side will require tactical versatility, something Asterhed knows Moller has in abundance.
The Swede said (via 101GreatGoals): “I would say Nikolaj would fit really good into a 3-4-3 system as a classical number 9. He can also play as one of two strikers in a 4-4-2 system. He can play as the target man and as the one who runs in behind.”
The underlying message is Moller can play just about anywhere in the forward line. If his career progresses as many expect, it won’t be too long before that forward line is Arsenal’s first-team’s.
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